The Men of Modern Mathematics: Zoom and What it Reveals

As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed I have moved about my house in quest of the ever perfect Zoom station. My husband and I are lucky enough to have a house large enough that we can reconfigure our work locations, and we have several times as the pandemic and seasons have evolved. Various rooms are comfortable in summer but cold in winter, or are seasonal in other ways. (We have a large wall of windows facing west that make the living room unlivable for several hours on summer evenings, but this is exactly the season we are on the back patio, on the other side of the house in the cool shade etc etc).

I have discovered four main Zoom stations in my house: My desk with its appropriate backdrop of academic books; My living room couch is less formal and the background is eclectic but tasteful; The TV where I play video games has a man-cave feel but I only use it rarely and only for informal meetings; and Finally, next to the router in my bedroom where it feels like my entire life is on display.

To be fair, the bedroom with the router is also the man-cave and where my desk is located, but as configured what can be seen by the casual Zoom observer is more controlled and professional in every station except next to the router. The location is obviously out of necessity, and is the one where mission-critical Zoom meetings take place. When I need to share my screen for a class, use a virtual whiteboard etc, it is helpful to tap my computer directly into the Ethernet and have my iPad right next to the wireless router.

The mission critical Zoom station is also the one with the messy bed, dirty clothes and all the knickknacks and all the brik-a-brak that comes with a marriage and years of mismatched interests and collections.

I make it sound much more unseemly than it actually is. The bedroom is large and a minute of quilt-smoothing and kicking dirty clothes out of sight gets the background professional enough for teaching and mission-critical meetings. However, there are still decorating decisions and personality-reveals aplenty for the not-too-casual observer. Things that, of themselves are not objectionable or unseemly, but that would not ordinarily reveal themselves in the usual classroom or conference room setting.

Things that may require context.

No, no, no. I don’t collect Nazi memorabilia. There are no confederate flags or anything of the like. Nor would there ever be. However, spanning almost an entire wall is a 12-foot long poster celebrating the Men of Modern Mathematics.

Men of Modern Mathematics is a printed version of the History Wall from the Eames exhibition Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond.  The Eames Office produced the 12-foot timeline for IBM, who, for decades, distributed the teaching tool to schools across the nation. Unrelated comment: one of the green lamps was Anne Heche’s.

This poster, an icon of mid-century design (an obvious interest of mine revealed from any of the Zoom stations) is also an icon of misogyny. The title alone belongs in the trash bin of history. Though, as it ignores the contributions of all but one woman (the inimitable Emmy Noether), it is an accurate reflection of the sexist history of the field and the sexist history of design-icon Charles Eames.

All this being said, mathematics as a field up to the 1960s (and ever since), when the poster was produced, was (and is) male dominated. Things are slowly changing, but progress in the field (as currently configured) was dominated by European men up through the 19th century, and dominated by European and American men in the 20th. Much of the sexism (and Euro-centrism) on display is a historical reflection of the field of mathematics. Especially as seen from the viewpoint of the mid 1960s.

Charles Eames, however, bears some responsibility as well. In the description of Emmy Noether, the poster compares her to a man, and describes her as “fat, rough and loud”. Such reflections on manner and appearance are absent from the descriptions of contributions from men and represent a crude and overt form of misogyny for such a public document.

So why keep it?

If it’s sexist, why do I keep it? I feel like a Confederate apologist here, but the poster really is a marvel of design. It is a wealth of information, both mathematical and cultural. The field of mathematics really was, and is sexist, but the poster for the most part focuses on the mathematical contributions of the contributors.

Moreover I have fond memories about how the poster came into my life (they are actually somewhat valuable because of the icon status of Charles Eames). My friend and co-postdoc Melissa and I stumbled upon a stack on a table in the hallway of the UBC math department. UBC still had mandatory retirement, and a stack had emerged from some dusty pile in the cleanup of an old-timer’s office. Melissa and I both took a couple (they were large even in folded form and we were both itinerant postdocs for which bulky items were a long-term inconvenience). Being adherents to the mid-century design aesthetic, we felt like we scored. From an investment perspective, we did.

So I have a sexist poster on the wall, which sucks. But I also have a remarkable piece of educational design and a reflection on the field of mathematics from the viewpoint of 1966, which is kind of cool.

It also looks really good in the room, he said sheepishly.


BA/BS Modeling

Each circle represents a 4-credit course to be distributed among the categories of Language, Quantitative Literacy, Writing & Cultures, and the Areas of Inquiry: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Arts & Letters and Other. You may edit the names of the categories. Currently the Bachelor of Arts requires 12 credits more than the Bachelor of Sciences—these are represented by the lighter colored circles.

Bachelors of (specify)

Natural Sciences
Social Sciences
Arts & Letters
Quantitative Literacy
Writing & Cultures
Writing 121
Writing 122/123
Other (specify)

Post your proposed degree.

Drag the circles to the categories and create your own Bachelors degree. Click on “Post your proposed degree” to send your proposed degree to the comments. This will result in some HTML code appearing in the comments text area below. Just hit “Post Comment” and your proposal will appear in the comments!

You may edit the text within each circle, for instance to designate a specific course. This has been done with Writing 121, 122/3 and a course in U.S. Cultures: Difference, Inequality, Agency (DIA) and one in Global Perspectives (GP). These courses are currently considered immutable because their requirements are recently specified by Senate legislation. We have categorized these writing courses and US:DIA, GP under the heading Writing & Cultures to unify and simplify the presentation of requirements to students.

Things to think about when dragging and editing:

  • The total number of credits should be the same between the BA and BS
  • Based on the Rule of Thirds for undergraduate degrees: 1/3 credits for Core Ed, 1/3 for the major and 1/3 for exploration, and the 180 credit requirement for Bachelors degrees, solutions which use fewer of the light gray circles are preferable.
  • Currently courses are allowed to double-dip betwixt Areas of Inquiry and between an Area of Inquiry and US:DIA or GP. Thus it may be possible to satisfy requirements without taking a course for each circle appearing in the diagram.
  • Currently courses which satisfy the BA or BS may not be used simultaneously to satisfy an Area, US:DIA, or GP requirement. We should discuss whether it is preferable, feasible and/or necessary to relax this prohibition.
  • The current requirements for Areas of Inquiry are actually 15 credits per Area—not four courses per Area. This is to ease transferability, and the vast majority of our students meet this requirement by taking four courses.
  • We are rethinking our BA/BS requirements; do not feel constrained by our current requirements when distributing courses.
  • If you have creative ideas about how BA or BS specific courses, sequences or programs should work, please email me.

Current Category Descriptions

Continue reading “BA/BS Modeling”

These Fonts Here

Google Fonts integration with WordPress (and a convenient Gutenberg block) has changed web design for the better. You can now easily choose from 700+ free fonts to type-up your webpage.

Check out a few of my favorites and why I chose them for this site.

Cormorant Garamond

If it were up to me, I’d always write in a font like Garamond (or the pretty well-done bastardization offered here). But it’s not a good font for the web. It’s not chunky enough for good legibility; even on paper it can be a tad effete. So I kept looking for the basic content font for this site.

Avería Serif Libre

Now here’s a web font! Avería Serif Libre is chunky enough to be legible on a screen. It’s serifed, but barely, and it has a slightly blurry appearance that lends personality. The reason for this is amazing—it’s formed by averaging all the serif fonts in Google’s font collection! You can read all about it here. As a probabilist, how could I resist?

Avería Serif Libre is the basic content font for this site.

Open Sans CONDENSED 700

I loves me some condensed sans serifs. Open Sans Condensed (here in the 300 weight) is the font for all subheadings (in ALL CAPS). The Open Sans collection is an excellent sans font that goes well with everything. The condensed version is tight, but legible, and the 700 weight makes a good heading font.

Archivo NARROW

The default heading font for the theme (Ixion) is Archivo Narrow in ALL CAPS. It still appears in menus, buttons and featured content because I haven’t gotten around to changing the CSS. It’s a good font, especially if you’re stuck with it.

Faster One

I chose this one for the header, because it looks FAST! Also, when I’m in a hurry I sign my email -=C


Math Pictures

The set of polynomials of degree 4 with all roots on the unit circle, and inscribed easily described regions.

The set of polynomials of degree 4 with all roots on the unit circle, and inscribed easily described regions.

Large resultants of families of polynomials generated as in Dobrowolski’s Lemma (which leads to the best known lower bound for Mahler measure as a function of degree).

The eigenvalues of a real random asymmetric matrix with iid normal entries.

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s interesting.

The zeros of Wronskians of consecutive Hermite (and other classical orthogonal) polynomials are pretty wild.

Pair correlation in the scaling limit near the real edge in Ginibre’s real ensemble.